Winter Solstice: Shortest Day – Longest Ride. Pt. 2
Our lunch stop was too good, but the challenge was far from over. I looked over at the group and said, “it’s time to ‘rattle our dags’”. There was excitement in the air, but also a slight resentment that we wouldn’t be staying for longer. With that said, we climbed back on our bikes and ventured into the rolling hills again. Speaking of that one hill – it wasn’t far off from the lunch stop and, with my stomach full to the brim from lunch, I hunched over the bike and groveled up the ascent. After a few more inclines we were back tackling the rougher gravel roads. The morale lifted on this section, as it felt like there was a real disconnect from ‘normal society’ out on these roads. Lush limestone stood tall around us as time stood still, as it often does in these remote parts. The smiles and stoke factor were high, even though we’d clicked into our fifth hour of riding. It’s amazing how easily you can distract the mind from the actual task at hand.
The light started to fade behind the vividly green land we were traversing. The black patches got larger as the darker side of the effort started accumulating. The highs are never far from the lows when undertaking a day-long riding challenge. The trick is to keep the balance neutral – never going too far into one or the other. The afternoon light was flaring as we finally reached the coastline. Luckily for us, the sun shone for most of the day – a welcome sight in the dead of winter. We took stock at Port Waikato beach and, after sipping water from bottles and digging around for the last of our food, we set off for the final part.
This last traverse would have us riding alongside the Waikato River with the sun setting behind us. It wasn’t long after 4pm and I knew we’d have to hustle in order to make it back to Pukekohe before dark. When the terrain finally flattened, the pace was picked up and we started to swap turns on the front. Of course, we were all fatigued, but there was a certain energy and intensity that was driving us. The day’s light was on its last legs - and our legs weren’t that far off. The solid effort definitely emptied our tanks as we approached Taukau bridge. This marked the shortish transfer back to Pukekohe and would take us from a rural setting to suburban society. It was now pitch black so, with our lights shining ahead of us and blinking behind us, we pushed on. The night made the hills hard to determine - or perhaps that was just the day taking its toll. Either way, it was hurting and it wasn’t just me; the group wasn’t chatting that much.
We crested the final climb and rolled into Pukekohe. The yellow light of the ‘Liquor Spot’ was shining and we ventured in for a ‘refreshment’ to celebrate. We shared high-fives and fist pumps as the group relished in the sense of accomplishment. I struggled to find any craft beer in the store and needed help from Bob – a true sign I was bloody toast. We found it eventually and sat out the front of the Liquor Spot slugging brews and munching chips. I checked the train timetable and realised we needed to get there - fast! We rode over to the place where it all began and jumped aboard the train. There was a level of stoke amongst us – we had shared the hard challenge but were all experiencing the high from it. As they say – you get out what you put in.
The discussion for the last hour was all about food and where we’d eat – so we pedaled onto Broadway and found The White Lady parked up on the curb. The White Lady has been an iconic ‘burger trailer’ since 1948 - it was born to serve the hungry (and thirsty) 6 o’ clock swill back in the day. It’s always been parked on a curb around Auckland City and has become a popular eating and meeting place. It’s widely known as an institution, a rite of passage and an icon of the city. It seemed right to finish our escapade on the curbside.
A bloody good burger and chips topped off a brilliant day. Afterwards, we all headed off in our separate directions - back to our regular lives. We had plenty of stories to share but only the five of us knew exactly how it had unfolded.
Words: Liam Friary
Images: Jeremy Hooper